By now you will be aware South Africa has declared its first Covid-19 infection. Judging by international trends, there will be further infections. Having said that, there is no need to panic or be overly concerned and one need only maintain basic hygiene purposes plus some common sense. Remember, the virus, like many viruses, is respiratory – that is, the virus is spread through the air, commonly by coughing or sneezing.
As employers you have a responsibility, in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to maintain a healthy workplace.
We recommend the following
Advise people to keep 0.5 – 1.5 metres away from anyone who is sneezing or coughing in their presence. If they are not doing so, encourage those coughing or sneezing to use a tissue and properly dispose of the tissue afterwards.
Of course, sick people may have touched infected items, which could be a number of everyday items used in the house or office, or in public – door knobs, for instance.
To avoid passing those germs to one another do not touch faces, mouths, eyes – do not shake hands. A light fist-bump can substitute for hand shaking, or bump elbows or even feet. Do so with a smile and you are unlikely to offend anyone. In the work environment you can place a sign at the entrance advising the suspension of handshaking and why.
Viruses do not last for ever, they only live up to about 48 hours in the open. As you have no doubt read elsewhere, soap and water are the best ways to deal with the germs.
Wash hands thoroughly – palms, back of hands, thumbs, tips of fingers, almost as far as the elbows. Observations show people often neglect the thumbs and tips of fingers.
Use soap and water or a mild detergent, even alcohol, but soap and water is normally adequate. How long? Twenty seconds.
If someone is coughing, advise them to use a tissue to cover their mouth for the duration of the cough – then safely dispose of the tissue into a bin, preferably sealed. In turn, ensure the bin contents are safely disposed. Incinerate where possible.
Inform all employees to report any symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath. This is a preventative measure to detect possible symptoms.
Where a display of symptoms concerns you, contact the NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR COMMUNICABLE DISEASES (NICD) on their toll-free number 0800 029 999. The line, we are advised, is open 24 hours per day. They will deal with covid-19 questions.
Ensure all staff, contractors, visitors and customers have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water.
Put sanitising hand rinse dispensers in prominent places around the workplace, for example, by all points of entrance, next to the office printer. Ensure the dispensers are maintained.
Prominently display posters promoting hand-washing – and how to wash hands.
Combine with other communication methods such as guidance, briefings at meetings and internet sources. However, be aware, despite popular believe, what you read on the internet is not necessarily true. Caution against hyperbole. There is considerable exaggeration on, in particular, social media.
Medical advice suggests face masks do not prevent being infected but do prevent the spread of airborne diseases. Where people display mild symptoms such as a runny nose or cough, make face masks available and encourage their use, accompanied by an explanatory briefing.
Those wearing masks should not wear them any longer than one day as the inside of the mask will likely be contaminated.
There is no reason at this stage to restrict travel or working from the office. But, as in other countries, these may be present in the future. Consider these risk management factors:
If schools are closed then children will need to remain home. This is likely to affect, in particular, mothers who will also need to stay at home to provide care and protection. Identify such cases and the impact it will have on your business. What steps can you take to minimise the risk? Perhaps offering assistance to work from home?
You may need to consider only essential staff to attend the office? Identify such staff and plan accordingly.
Identify inward and outward logistical issues in your supply chain. What steps can you take to minimise the risks?
We will, as required, prepare further briefing news sheets dealing with the risk management issues.